For more information and images on Alligators, visit the Categories section below, in Florida Animals or Florida Everglades / Natural Areas — or in such posts as 1…2…3 Gator Mounds and Their Protectors, Alligator Love: A Courtship, Alligator Babies, Growing Gator Baby — A Survivor!, Greeted by a Gator, See You Later, Alligator, The Baby Gators of Green Cay, Big Baby, Catching Some Sun, Hello, You Gorgeous Gator and more.
Twenty million years as a resident of planet Earth, and counting…. Scientists believe that the American alligator resembles animals that inhabited our planet as long as 100-150 million years ago — and that they may be linked to creatures dating 50-65 million years ago, managing to avoid the extinction that killed off the dinosaurs, their prehistoric contemporaries.
A member of the crocodilian family, there are two alligator species living in the world today: the American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) and the Chinese alligator (Alligator sinensis). American alligators are found in the southeastern United States; the majority inhabit Florida and Louisiana, with over a million alligators in each state. Interestingly, southern Florida is the only place where both alligators and crocodiles exist side-by-side. We’ve actually seen a growing number of crocodiles in our trips to the Everglades.
Alligators live in freshwater environments, including ponds, marshes, wetlands, rivers, and swamps, as well as brackish environments. They’re long-lived animals, living more than 50 years in the wild. As with other cold-blooded reptiles, it’s common to see them basking in the sun, thus regulating their body temperatures. Occasionally they keep their mouths open, akin to a dog panting — it’s a cooling mechanism.
Sadly, American alligator populations suffered tremendously throughout the 20th century, when they were hunted to near-extinction for their hides — an estimated 10 million alligators were slaughtered. Since the Endangered Species Act of 1973 however, these amazing creatures’ populations continue to grow, and illegal poaching is better controlled. Twenty million years on planet Earth, and we nearly managed to wipe them out for handbags.
Courtship and Breeding
Alligators reach breeding maturity at 6-10 years of age, when they’re approximately 6-7 feet long. Growth slows after this point, but some of the oldest males may grow upwards of 16 feet, reaching 1,200 pounds. We’ve seen some LARGE GATORS out in the ‘Glades…. And it’s pitiful to see the yahoos on reality TV wrestling (rastling?) the smaller juveniles. In the first place, WHY? Secondly, bullies much, picking on the babies?
Interestingly, recent studies have shown that up to 70 percent of alligator females remained with their partner — often for many years.
Breeding begins in the spring (mid-April through May, specifically), and you can hear their loud bellows throughout the swamps — calls used to attract mates and warn off other males. While (like all wildlife) gators don’t want to bother humans, the mating season isn’t the time to push your luck — aggression is at a higher level, and they may become more territorial (the older ones, at least). On our hikes, we’re always aware of the season. Alligator courtship is complex — vocalizations, head-slapping on the water’s surface, body posturing, snout and back rubbing, bubble blowing, and pheromone (scent) signals all play into the process.
Nesting and the Young
Alligator nests (or mounds) are built by the female, and comprised of vegetation, sticks, and mud located in a sheltered spot in or near the water. She lays 20-50 eggs, and covers them under more vegetation which heats as it decays, serving to incubate the eggs. The female will remain near the nest throughout the 65-day incubation period, protecting it. If a mother alligator is killed or removed, she can’t protect her nest or young — and the hatchlings are doomed. *Leave wildlife alone.*
Hatchlings are 6-8 inches long, and are near-replicas of their parents, save for a series of yellow and black stripes which camouflage beautifully with the surrounding marsh roots. For five months, they’ll remain with the mother before finding their own ways. In our area, we typically see 5-10 baby alligators survive in the protected wetlands. Perhaps less. Common predators that prey upon the juvenile alligators include snapping turtles, snakes, raccoons, bobcats, raptors, and even larger alligators. But when we find them? Oh my….
Your photos are so beautiful!!
🙂 THANKS so much!!
Preparing for my blog on alligators… So naturally I came here. Beautiful job FeyGirl.
Ah, thanks! It was quickly put together from all the other gator posts, but one can get an idea… Probably on every walk/hike we see one or two or ten. THERE ARE MANY GATORS HERE, heh!
Just yesterday in fact, we were startled on a hike by a thrashing alligator — meaning we startled him, and he was furiously thrashing about. But to hear it within 5 feet of you, that cacophony, whooo. A little jump.
Great post/page. The photos of the courting ‘gators were fascinating. I was stunned to hear that there are crocodiles in Florida. I had no idea. I’m assuming that they were taken from some other continent and released here.
As to the near extinction of alligators, maybe this method can be applied to the Burmese python? Get some female pop stars or actresses to start wearing snakeskin belts, shoes or what-have-you, while making a statement that they are trying to save the Everglades. Perhaps environmentalism and capitalism could join forces and wipe out this invasive menace.
Thanks — I was SO thrilled to catch this in action. The female actually had hatchlings nearby, so I think it was more a cuddle-fest. 🙂
I honestly have no idea where our crocs hail from originally…. Very good question! But to date, I’ve only seen them in *one* section of the Everglades National Park. That’s it. I knew they existed, but to see them side-by-side with the gators was a treat! Very odd.
And — I LOVE LOVE LOVE your idea! It’s certainly not the pythons’ faults, but something must be done. The energies devoted to tracking and killing them is fierce, but their breeding and damage is out of control — after only a few years — thanks to lax importing, exotic trade, etc. UGH.
We love your gator photos, they speak to us! 🙂 🙂 Woof Woof
Aw, thanks so very much! I’m fortunate to have ample opportunity to capture these amazing creatures…
From the photos it appears that you were quite close to the alligators, or did you use a long range camera lens (proper term?). Great photos and thank you for the enlightening post on these mysterious creatures. I always wondered what kind of sound they made, if any, and good to know their “aggressive” habits to avoid an encounter. What kind of boat do you use on these photo expeditions?
Thanks so much!
I’m actually a hiker — an avid one at that — so everything you see is done on land. But I’m very accustomed to these guys and their habits and seasons… For instance, they’re usually VERY mellow, but come breeding and baby season, I know to watch out. Give them a bit more leeway. 🙂
I have a telephoto lens, but it’s not THAT huge… It’s a 70-300. There are far larger out there. It’s decent. So yes, I still get fairly close — which is difficult to avoid in some areas where I hike, anyways, hah! But again, knowing about the behaviors of these guys is critical. They’re honestly VERY mellow most of the year, and more afraid of you than vice-versa.